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Diplomatic - April 26, 2024

South Africa eyes closer ties with Bangladesh

Special Correspondent: South Africa is set to deepen its engagement with Bangladesh across multiple sectors, as the African nation, a BRICS member, positions itself as a future economic giant, said Md Solaiman Alam Seth, Honorary Consul of South Africa in Bangladesh. In an interview commemorating South Africa’s Freedom Day, Seth highlighted Bangladesh’s economic potential and its growing influence in the global market.

Freedom Day, celebrated on April 27, marks the anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, where citizens of all races voted, electing Nelson Mandela as president. As South Africa commemorates its journey towards equality and democracy, its partnership with Bangladesh is becoming increasingly significant.

Seth indicated that South Africa, with a population of 60 million and a GDP of nearly $400 billion, has identified Bangladesh as a key partner for trade and investment. A considerable number of Bangladeshis—approximately half a million—already reside in South Africa, mostly engaged in small businesses.

Reflecting on Bangladesh’s achievements, Seth praised the nation’s steady economic growth, especially in sectors like readymade garments, where women have gained empowerment and influence. He also noted Bangladesh’s success in improving disaster management, primary health, and sanitation.

Seth mentioned several infrastructure projects in Bangladesh that are fueling the country’s growth, including the Padma Bridge, metro rail, Karnaphuli tunnels, Elevated Expressway, and the expansion of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. He suggested that Bangladesh could further expand its reach by exploring African markets, especially as it has historically relied on the US and European Union for garment exports.

South Africa is exploring the possibility of setting up a diplomatic mission in Dhaka to support trade and business. Moreover, the country has expressed interest in establishing a world-class maritime university to meet the demand for skilled manpower in deep-sea exploration.

Expatriate Bangladeshis in South Africa sent over 220 million US dollars in remittances during the July-March period of the 2023-24 fiscal year, with the UAE leading the list, followed by the UK, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. South Africa ranked 13th among remittance-sending countries.

However, the total trade between South Africa and Bangladesh saw significant growth, with an 8% increase in 2022, and a further 36% increase in 2023, primarily due to South Africa’s exports of fresh fruits and other commodities. Bangladesh’s exports to South Africa consist mainly of textiles, footwear, and leather goods.

A seven-member South African business delegation visited Bangladesh in March 2024 to explore investment opportunities, particularly in the readymade garment (RMG) sector. The delegation, led by Nokuthula Patience Ndlovu, expressed keen interest in joint ventures and other collaborative business opportunities. During a meeting with the Chittagong Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CMCCI), local business leaders discussed potential investments in sectors like ICT, infrastructure, textile, and tourism.

Both the countries are optimistic about strengthening bilateral ties and fostering greater cooperation. With robust economic growth and a shared history, South Africa and Bangladesh appear poised for deeper collaboration and mutual benefit in the coming years.

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